An Introduction to the Flipped Classroom

Osmosis Team
Published on Apr 29, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Are you considering transitioning your program's curriculum to a flipped classroom model? In today's post, Leah Tieger, a writer on the Osmosis team, offers an introduction to flipped classrooms and their potential benefits and drawbacks.

Top-tier health education programs, from Stanford Medicine to Duke University’s School of Nursing, are implementing flipped classrooms to improve learning outcomes. As more and more medical students skip lectures to study independently, flipped classrooms respond to declining attendance by maximizing advances in educational technology, retention techniques, and adaptive learning. Both the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have written about the merits of this approach.

So, what are flipped classrooms, what are their benefits, and how can you implement them? Read on to find out.  

What Is a Flipped Classroom?

Traditional academic approaches often rely heavily on lectures as the basis for transmitting knowledge from professor to student. Instructors may demonstrate practical applications, such as solving a set of equations or introducing new lab techniques. From there, students independently complete homework assignments – ideally designed to build upon the lecture, lesson, or demonstration. In this scenario, students are passive in the classroom and active on their own. Flipped classrooms fundamentally reverse this pattern through the assignment of pre-work before classroom sessions, engaging students in active learning from the beginning, and minimizing passive learning.

Students in a flipped classroom independently review lectures, lesson plans, and practical tutorials, often in video format. “Homework” assignments are then completed in class. With this model, the professor assists students as they actively engage with curriculum material. This approach allows for targeted and often individualized guidance, rather than a one-size-fits-all lesson plan. In other words, where traditional classrooms are centered on the teacher, flipped classrooms are centered on the student.

Pedagogy in support of flipped classrooms first emerged in a 1993 College Teaching article. Allison King, then an associate professor of education at California State University San Marcos, found that knowledge is not transmitted via lecture, but “constructed.” According to King, effective learning occurs when students engage with new information and incorporate it within the constructs of their own (individual) prior knowledge and experience. 

While reports advocating for student-centered learning and inverted classrooms continued to emerge, the flipped model did not fully cross from theory to practice until 2007 – when two Colorado high school teachers began posting video lectures on YouTube. Initially, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams set out to keep absent chemistry students from falling behind, but they soon realized that students who hadn’t missed class also referred to the videos. Recordings proved so effective that in-class time was freed up for more tailored instruction.

What Are the Benefits of Flipped Classrooms?

In a meta-analysis of flipped classrooms in health education, researchers found that positive learning outcomes and increased student satisfaction remained constant across 28 studies. Flipped classrooms benefit students, faculty, and administrators by:

Several underlying causes explain these findings. Recorded video lectures and lessons, for instance, allow learners to customize their education. Students speed through content they understand while replaying more challenging subject matter as needed. Active learning during in-class time can improve content mastery as well. While instructors gain more opportunities to provide feedback, students gain more opportunities to apply their knowledge. In-class discussions (i.e. peer-to-peer learning) further support student engagement.

Potential Drawbacks of Flipped Classrooms

While a flipped classroom model has the potential to improve learning outcomes and student engagement in your program, there are potential downsides to using it in your curriculum. First, implementing a flipped classroom model will require a significant investment from you and your colleagues. There is a cost—in time and resources—from adapting your current curricular model to a flipped classroom model, and some of the faculty you work with may not want to make this shift.

As well, implementing a flipped classroom will require all of your students to have access to a computer or tablet and a stable Internet connection. If some of your students do not own one of these products or have the Internet at home, they may be unable to complete pre-class assignments. Therefore, when considering the adoption of flipped classrooms in your school, consider how you can ensure that students from all backgrounds have equitable support for completing their work.

Implementing a flipped classroom curriculum in your program

In the next article in this series, our team will discuss how you can achieve student and faculty acceptance of the flipped classroom curriculum model at your school. If you have questions about flipped classrooms and how they can benefit your program, please email us at [email protected].

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